Thursday, October 22, 2015

Today Junior’s Sound Gets Ocean-soaked And Sunburnt in Ride The Surf

Get nostalgic for the summer sun and Ride The Surf with Today Junior.

Obviously, we’ve all heard of the infamous sophomore slump. Even with bands who never really made a splash, the second album is always perceived as the most difficult to record for reasons spanning from unreasonably high expectations to production time crunches.

But sometimes the band finds its signature sound during round two and the sophomore hits the mark that the debut was initially aiming for. While Today Junior’s What’s The Skinny (2013) is surrounded by more of an indie rock air, 2015’s Ride The Surf bathes completely in the salty breeze of the ocean.

From the song titles to the trippy album artwork and the instruments themselves, Today Junior creates a sun-and-surf vibe only matched by setting up a blanket and an umbrella along the Massachusetts coast. Harry O’Toole’s guitar echoes reverb like it was bouncing along the inside of a pipeline. Brother Mike O’Toole drums steadily, subtly but consistently, creating low, bubbling beats like a wave rolling in during low tide. Anthony Ambrose, meanwhile, ties the songs together with a chugging bass and some incredibly interesting licks and fills (am I the only one who immediately thought of Michael Jackson’s “The Way You Make Me Feel” during the song “Small Talk”?) The more jangle-pop oriented Skinny has been, for the most part, replaced by revved up surf rock that rides throughout the album.

In Ride The Surf, Today Junior creates a unique vibe of three dudes growing up and just starting to enter the age of wishful nostalgia. Kicking off the album is “Come of Age”, one of a few songs that toes the line of punk, but falls back into a sped-up indie song, followed by a collection of songs of complicated relationships (“Gracie”, “Hung Up”), self-conscious reflection (“What I Said”, “Out of Reach”), and of course, using the beach to imagery relating to their growing up, (“Ride The Surf”, “Bitcrusher”). Right up until the killer closer “Younger Days”, Harry’s pleading vocals offer a unique new voice to the Boston indie rock scene, and the band’s hyper-surf imagery creates an interesting spin on a genre that sometimes can seem too synonymous with the West Coast.

Bishop & Rook caught up with Mike O’Toole to talk a little bit about the new album, the band’s approach to songwriting compared to the first album, and why the surf rock element became so prevalent in their music.

Bishop & Rook: First, can you tell me a little bit about the history of the band?

Mike O'Toole (Today Junior): Harry and I are brother’s and have been playing music together since we were kids. We started by playing house shows in Allston back in 2011/2010 doing cover songs and no real originals. We eventually started writing music with our buddy Craig, who we met through basement shows. Eventually, we released the 7-song demo When In Roam. In 2013 we released a full-length, DIY album recorded entirely in our basement called, What’s The Skinny?. Shortly after, Craig left the group and we picked up Tony as our new bass player, who helped us shape new sounds and ideas.

B&R: You're new album Ride The Surf is (obviously) very influenced by a more surf-rock style, and creates a new dimension to the sound off your first album. What influenced your change in musical direction?

MO: The drive for the “surf-rock sound” has always been there. After two years of writing Today Junior songs, we slowly started to shape the sounds we wanted. The change in bass players also helped change our sound and direction. The biggest update for us though, was working and recording in a studio setting (Hanging Horse Studio) instead of our basement.

B&R: It's more stereotypical for West Coast surf rock bands like Wavves or Best Coast, to spend a lot of time on the beach rather than New England bands. What kinds of differences (if any) do you see in approaching this genre as an East Coast group?

MO: Harry and I were born and raised on Cape Cod where the beach is 15 minutes in any direction. We don’t surf, but have had our fair share of the ocean and beach vibes. The term “Ride The Surf’ for us isn’t just about surfing, but about different phases of life and growing up. Wavves and Best Coast are bands we totally listen to, but when we’re writing music, we don’t compare ourselves to other groups. We are always trying to achieve a new and better sound; our goal is to write music we enjoy.

B&R: Ride The Surf also incorporates a lot of psychedelic elements that sort of layer on top of the indie rock sound from your first album. Do you guys find it's hard to re-create psychedelia during live shows?

MO: All the songs off Ride The Surf had been played live before we released the album. We actually like to test new tracks out by playing them for audiences. We’re slowly starting to incorporate drones, loops and other wacky sounds into our live performances. Harry and I are always conscious about performing the songs live when we’re recording the tracks. However, we like to add certain sounds that are different when you listen to the recorded versions versus live versions.

B&R: How did producer and engineer Brad Krieger come into the fold?

MO: Harry and I met Brad through our old bass player Craig. We were excited to put our songs into someone else's hands to achieve different, new sounds. He had more control over the audio and the pace of the tracks. It was really fun collaborating with someone as creative as Brad, allowing him to take control and help push our sound forward.

B&R: What were some of the rewards and challenges when recording the album?

MO: We didn’t want to feel rushed with the album, but were also limited to booking studio time at Hanging Horse. We would spend one weekend every month for the entire year working non-stop on the album; showing up at noon on a Friday or Saturday and working all day/night until we crashed and had to leave the next day. A lot of the songs weren’t fully written before we started, so we spent extra time flushing them out. “Rolling Stone’s Farewell” was originally written as a much faster song, but Brad suggested slowing it down, and as a result, has been received well when played live. The recording process for us always has speed bumps and challenges that add to our delays.

B&R: What are some of the goals you guys would like to accomplish by the end of the year.

MO: Well, we already have a bunch of new music that we’ve been recording and hope to release before the end of the year. Our current bass player is moving out west in September, which dampens the idea of any huge tours. However, we have other dudes lined up and are still looking to play as many shows as we can. We’re constantly trying to push and promote our music and are hoping to travel as much as we can. Our main goals as musicians have always been to play music and to pay rent, as opposed to working our day jobs.

See Today Junior live on October 23rd at Twin Berlin's CD Release Show at PA's Lounge (Somerville) presented by WEMF Radio and on October 31st for Eye Design's Trick or Treat Yo Self Halloween Show at Firebrand Saints (Kendall Square) featuring Sneeze as Nirvana, Today Junior as The Jimi Hendrix Experience and Peachpit as The Velvet Underground. Check out Today Junior’s new album Ride The Surf available for $8 on Bandcamp and follow the band on Facebook and Twitter for additional show dates.

Austin Sorette is a freelance music journalist who took some time off to ride the surf but is back to the grind. Holla at him.

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